[This page by Catherine J. Minter]

Karl Philipp Moritz (1756-1793)

Traditionally studied principally in the context of his friendship with Goethe, which was forged when the two writers met in Rome, Moritz is now recognized as a significant author in his own right. He remains best known for his ‘psychological novel’ Anton Reiser and his account of his travels in England, the Reisen eines Deutschen in England im Jahre 1782; Travels of a German in England in the Year 1782. In recent years, however, increasing critical attention has been paid to his contributions to the early history of psychology in Germany, contained in the Magazin zur Erfahrungsseelenkunde (1783-1793) [Journal of Empirical Psychology], a journal edited by Moritz and other Berlin Enlightenment contemporaries, and in several stand-alone publications in the fields of psychology and pedagogy. Moritz’s psychology is characterized by intense focus on the individual and a commitment to gaining an understanding of the motives behind abnormal psychological behaviour through detached, objective observation.

Moritz’s contributions to aesthetic theory in Germany are also of considerable importance. He may be credited with having been the first German writer on aesthetics to have invented the notion of aesthetic autonomy and to have emphasized the significance of ‘disinterested’ aesthetic pleasure: the contemplation of the work of art as something that is ‘perfect in itself’ and without moral-didactic, ‘useful’ purpose. Moritz first gave expression to his ideas on this topic in an essay entitled ‘Versuch einer Vereinigung aller schönen Künste und Wissenschaften unter dem Begriff des in sich selbst Vollendeten’; ‘Attempt to Unite all the Fine Arts and Sciences Under the Concept of That Which is Complete in Itself’, which first appeared in the March 1785 issue of the Berlinische Monatsschrift. These ideas were later developed more systematically by Kant in Kritik der Urteilskraft; Critique of Judgement (1790). For a comparison of the aesthetics of Moritz and Kant, see below, Jonathan M. Hess.

Moritz’s aesthetic theory belongs in the context of Weimar Classicism, but the intense focus on the (often inharmonious) individual and the problem of the self in his psychological and fictional writings may be seen to anticipate Romanticism. Moritz is a central transitional figure between Enlightenment and Romanticism in Germany.

Anton Reiser

Reisen eines Deutschen in England im Jahre 1782; Travels of a German in England in the Year 1782

Further Reading

Matthew Bell, The German tradition of psychology in literature and thought, 1700-1840 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005)

Mark Boulby, Karl Philipp Moritz: At the Fringe of Genius (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1979)

Martin L. Davies, ‘Karl Philipp Moritz’s Erfahrungsseelenkunde: Its Social and Intellectual Origins’, Oxford German Studies 16 (1985), 13-35

Sheila Dickson, ‘“Unerhörte Begebenheiten” in Karl Philipp Moritz’s “Journal of Empirical Psychology” (1783-1793)’, Pacific Coast Philology (2013)

Sheila Dickson, ‘“[D]as Innere des Menschen aufklär[en]”: Poetry as Psychology in Moritz’s Magazin zur Erfahrungsseelenkunde’, Publications of the English Goethe Society 84:1 (2015), 18-29

Jonathan M. Hess, Reconstituting the Body Politic: Enlightenment, Public Culture and the Invention of Aesthetic Autonomy (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1999)

Catherine J. Minter, The Mind-Body Problem in German Literature 1770-1830: Wezel, Moritz, and Jean Paul (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2002), pp. 67-112

Arnim Polster, ‘On the Use and Abuse of Reading: Karl Philipp Moritz and the Dialectic of Pedagogy in Late-Enlightenment Germany’, in Impure Reason: Dialectic of Enlightenment in Germany, ed. by W. Daniel Wilson and Robert C. Holub (Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 1993), pp. 465-84

Simon Richter, Laocoon’s Body and the Aesthetics of Pain: Winckelmann, Lessing, Herder, Moritz, Goethe (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1992)

Elliott Schreiber, ‘Pressing Matters: Karl Philipp Moritz’s Models of the Self in the Magazin zur Erfahrungsseelenkunde’, Goethe Yearbook 11 (2002), 133-58

Martha Woodmansee, ‘The Interests in Disinterestedness: Karl Philipp Moritz and the Emergence of the Theory of Aesthetic Autonomy in Eighteenth-Century Germany’, Modern Language Quarterly 45 (1984), 22-47